|Photo from USIP|
We swung by the Provincial Council last week. The Council is the only democratically-elected institution in the province, and every single other person in the provincial administration -- the Governor, the Provincial Ministers of Education and Health and Finance and Economy and everything else, all the way down to the District Sub-Governors -- are chosen by Kabul.
The equivalent of this system would be if the Governor of, say, Texas, were chosen by the President of the United States instead of by the people of Texas. The President or someone else in Washington would also get to choose all of the State's Gubernatorial cabinet-type positions covering everything functional within the State -- tax collection, school administration, road construction and maintenance, policing and law enforcement, judicial implementation including the penal system, the whole shebang. Washington's influence in this hypothetical extends all the way to the county level, with county administrators chosen by Washington, albeit with some consultation from the Governor.
In this hypothetical, if the good people of Texas do not like their Governor or one of their administrators, they have no means of getting rid of him. "Can you imagine if we tried that in the States?" I asked my language training classmates. "There would be riots," one responded.
And yet, this is the arrangement written into the Constitution of Afghanistan.
"We don't get a budget," the Provincial Council president told me. "Kabul doesn't give us anything. You need to give us fuel so we can work."
("Who on EARTH designed this system?" I asked the Embassy budgeting and finance specialist, a plucky woman from the Department of Treasury who had once written Arkansas's State budget. "It's not QUITE as bad as it seems," she said optimistically. "Well, kind of, at least").
Getting the Afghan Government to function as it should, with money flowing from the appropriate places to fulfill existing budget gaps, is one of the primary goals of the PRT. The act of connecting the budget people in Kabul, who should ostensibly have money for the Provincial Council, with the Council themselves is an act in Making Bureaucracy Function. But getting money from Kabul is a long and annoying process, and the PRT is seen as a gigantic, camouflage-swathed ATM. It feels like we've had this discussion in almost every meeting I have ever attended.
We've been through this, a thousand times with a thousand different people. It just seemed so hopeless.
Continue reading, It's just not working.